Open and Welcome Thread - May 2021

by habryka1 min read3rd May 202142 comments


Open Threads

If it’s worth saying, but not worth its own post, here's a place to put it.

If you are new to LessWrong, here's the place to introduce yourself. Personal stories, anecdotes, or just general comments on how you found us and what you hope to get from the site and community are invited. This is also the place to discuss feature requests and other ideas you have for the site, if you don't want to write a full top-level post.

If you want to explore the community more, I recommend reading the Library, checking recent Curated posts, seeing if there are any meetups in your area, and checking out the Getting Started section of the LessWrong FAQ. If you want to orient to the content on the site, you can also check out the new Concepts section.

The Open Thread tag is here. The Open Thread sequence is here.

41 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:57 AM
New Comment

I’m Jose.  I’m 20.  This is a comment many years in the making.

I grew up in India, in a school that (almost) made up for the flaws in Indian academia, as a kid with some talent in math and debate.  I largely never tried to learn math or science outside what was taught at school back then.  I started using the internet in 2006, and eventually started to feel very strongly about what I thought was wrong with the institutions of the world, from schools to religion.  I spent a lot of time then trying to make these thoughts coherent.  I didn’t really think about what I wanted to do, or about the future, in anything more than abstract terms until I was 12 and a senior at my school recommended HPMOR.

I don’t remember what I thought the first time I read it up until where it had reached (I think it was chapter 95).  I do remember that on my second read, by the time it had reached chapter 101, I stayed up the night before one of my finals to read it.  That was around the time I started to actually believe I could do something to change the world (there may have been a long phase where I phrased it as wanting to rule the universe).  But apart from an increased tendency in my thoughts at the time toward refining my belief systems, nothing changed much, and Rationality from AI to Zombies remained on my TBR until early 2017, which is when I first lurked LessWrong.

I had promised myself at the time that I would read all the Sequences properly regardless of how long it took, and so it wasn’t until late 2017 that I finally finished it.  That was a long, and arduous process, and much of which came from many inner conflicts I actually noticed for the first time.  Some of the ideas were ones I had tried to express long ago, far less coherently.  It was epiphany and turmoil at every turn.  I graduated school in 2018; I’d eventually realize this wasn’t nearly enough though, and it was pure luck that I chose a computer science undergrad because of vague thoughts about AI, despite not yet deciding on what I really wanted to do.

Over my first two years in college, I tried to actually think about that question.  By this point, I had read enough about FAI to know it to be the most important thing to work on, and that anything I did would have to come back to that in some way.  Despite that, I still stuck to some old wish to do something that I could call mine, and shoved the idea of direct work in AI Safety in the pile where things that you consciously know and still ignore in your real life go.  Instead, I thought I’d learned the right lesson and held off on answering direct career questions until I knew more, because I had a long history of overconfidence in those answers (not that that’s a misguided principle, but there was more I could have seen at that point with what I knew).

Fast forward to late-2020.  I had still been lurking on LW, reading about AI Safety, and generally immersing myself in the whole shindig for years.  I even applied to the MIRIx program early that year, and held off on starting operations on that after March that year.  I don’t remember what it was exactly that made me start to rethink my priors, but one day, I was shaken by the realization that I wasn’t doing anything the way I should have been if my priorities were actually what I claimed they were, to help the most people.  I thought of myself as very driven by my ideals, and being wrong only on the level where you don’t notice difficult questions wasn’t comforting.  I went into existential panic mode, trying to seriously recalibrate everything about my real priorities.  

In early 2021, I was still confused about a lot of things.  Not least because being from my country sort of limits the options one has to directly work in AI Alignment, or at least makes them more difficult.  That was a couple months ago.  I found that after I took a complete break from everything for a month to study for subjects I hadn’t touched in a year, all those cached thoughts I had that bred my earlier inner conflicts had mostly disappeared.  I’m not entirely settled yet though, it’s been a weird few months.  I’m trying to catch up on a lot of lost time and learn math (I’m working through MIRI’s research guide), focus my attention a lot more in specific areas of ML (I lucked out again there and did spend a lot of time studying it broadly earlier), and generally trying to get better at things.  I’ll hopefully post infrequently here.  I really hope this comment doesn’t feel like four years.

Welcome! It's people like you (and perhaps literally you) on which the future of the world depends. :)

Wait... you started using the internet in 2006? Like, when you were 5???

Thanks!  2006 is what I remember, and what my older brother says too.  I was 5 though, so the most I got out of it was learning how to torrent movies and Pokemon ROMs until like 2008, when I joined Facebook (at the time to play an old game called FarmVille).

Very cool, this sounds a lot like my own story too. Welcome to the club!

I think the whole FAI research is mostly bottlenecked by funding; There are many smart people who will work in any field that has funding available (in my model of the world). So unless you're someone who does not need funding or can fund others, you might not be part of the bottleneck.

I am really quite confident that the space is not bottlenecked by funding. Maybe we have different conceptions of what we mean by funding, but there really is a lot of money (~$5-10 Billion USD) that is ready to be deployed towards promising AI Alignment opportunities, there just aren't any that seem very promising and aren't already funded. It really seems to me that funding is very unlikely the bottleneck for the space.

I am just speaking from general models and I have no specific model for FAI, so I was/am probably wrong.

I still don’t understand the bottleneck. There aren’t promising projects to get funded. Isn’t this just another way of saying that the problem is hard, and most research attempts will be futile, and thus to accelerate the progress, unpromising projects need to be funded? I.e., what is the bottleneck if it’s not funding? “Brilliant ideas” are not under our direct control, so this cannot be part of our operating bottleneck.

Solution space is really high-dimensional, so just funding random points has basically no chance of getting you much closer to a functioning solution. There aren't even enough people who understand what the AI Alignment problem is to fund all of them, and frequently funding people can have downsides. Two common downsides of funding people: 

  • They have an effect on the social context in which work happens, and if they don't do good work, they scare away other contributors, or worsen the methodology of your field
  • If you give away money like candy, you attract lots of people who will try to pretend doing the work you want to do and just take away your money. There are definitely enough people who just want to take your money to exhaust $10B in financial resources (or really any reasonable amount of resources). In a lemon's market, you need to maintain some level of vigilance, otherwise you can easily lose all of your resources at almost any level of wealth.

One good example of what funding can do is nanotech. describes how strong funding killed of the nanotech industry by getting people to compete for that funding. 

80,000 Hours' data suggests that people are the bottleneck, not funding.  Could you tell me why you think otherwise?  It's possible that there's even more available funding in AI research and similar fields that are likely sources for FAI researchers.

(First read my comment on the sister comment: )

I looked at the 80k page again, and I still don’t get their model; They say the bottleneck is people who have PhDs from top schools (an essentially supply-gated resource), and can geographically work in the FAI labs (a constant-ish fraction of the said PhD holders). It seems to me that the main lever to increase top school PhD graduates is to increase funding and thus positions in AI-related fields. (Of course, this lever might still take years to show its effects, but I do not see how individual decisions can be the bottleneck here.)

As said, I am probably wrong, but I like to understand this.

They say the bottleneck is people who have PhDs from top schools (an essentially supply-gated resource), 

They write no such thing. They do say:

Might you have a shot of getting into a top 5 graduate school in machine learning? This is a reasonable proxy for whether you can get a job at a top AI research centre, though it’s not a requirement. 

They use it as a proxy for cognitive ability. It's possible for a person who writes insightful AI alignment forum posts to hired into an AI research role. It's just very hard to develop the ability to write insightful things about AI alignment and the kind of person who can is also the kind of person who can get into a top 5 graduate school in machine learning. 

When it comes to increasing the number of AI Phd's that can accelerate AI development in general, so it's problematic from the perspective of AI risk. 

They do say that a PhD from a top 5 program is a reasonable proxy for an AI research center. These are supply limited. Therefore, they are implying that top PhDs are a bottleneck. This is far upstream of everything else so it does seem that a top PhD is a reasonable proxy for the bottleneck.

They don't speak about a having a PhD but ability to get a into a top 5 graduate program. Many people who do have the ability to get into a top 5 program don't get into a top 5 graduate program but persue other directions. 

The number of people with that ability level is not directly dependent on the amount of of PhD's that are given out. 

They don't speak about a having a PhD but ability to get a into a top 5 graduate program.

Yes they do. On the same page,

The first step on this path is usually to pursue a PhD in machine learning at a good school. It’s possible to enter without a PhD, but it’s close to a requirement in research roles at the academic centres and DeepMind, which represent a large fraction of the best positions.

Certainly there’s a bottleneck on ‘good’ schools also, but then we can strengthen the claim using what they say later about ‘top’ schools being a proxy for success.

Hey there, been sporadically reading stuff on LW for maybe ~8ish years? Just created an account today to comment on the animal intelligence thread. I can't remember if I had an account on the old v1.0 site, but in any case I don't remember ever posting previously. Found out about LW via HPMOR.

I'm grateful to the folks at LW for introducing me to cryonics. I signed up a few years back.

I'm interested in animal communication (among other things) — I'm currently building a prosthetic human voice meant for animal use. Would love to connect with anyone who has experience with consumer electronics development.

Hello LessWrong,

My name is Nate. Currently an undergrad studying computer science with a specialization in intelligent system, AI. I grew up indoctrinated into an extremist fundamentalist christian ideology and recently broke free from that world after leaving for university. It's finally great to develop my own ideas about faith and hope to build up a value and ethics framework that will grow my agnostic atheist position I hold today. Being open-minded is freeing and I hope to expand my philosophical position.

Hello! I've been around here since about the start of the year, but haven't yet introduced myself in a welcome thread. My exposure to the rationalist movement was somewhat nonstandard, as I have a sister who's 10 years older and who was reading LessWrong back in 2007-10 when I was in middle school. I picked up quite a bit via osmosis from her, particularly EA-related ideas. As a result, I started lurking on the EA forum back in 2019, and discovered SSC and LessWrong from there. What finally motivated me to make an account and start posting was wanting to go through alkja's Hammertime sequence, which I did in January and learned a lot from. 

Outside of LessWrong, I'm a spacecraft guidance, navigation, and control engineer, as well as a part-time grad student. It's a cool field, and I hope to write some posts about it for this community in the future. In addition to my work and EA/rationalist topics, I enjoy reading about urban planning and economics. This is a great community, and I've been really happy to find this space. 

Welcome! I recognize your username, we must have crossed paths before. Maybe something to do with SpaceX?

Yes! We had a nice discussion in the comments of your "Fun with +12 OOMs of Compute" post.

Why Not Nano-Apartments?

There seem to be goods of many different sizes and price-tags, with people being able to buy bulk or the bare minimum, e.g. transportation: walking by foot, biking, public transport, leasing a car, owning a car, or by helicopter.

However, the very small scale for apartments seems to be neglected – cheap apartments are often in bad neighbourhoods, with longer commutes and worse living conditions, but rarely just extremely small (<10 m²). But one could easily imagine 5 m² apartments, with just a bed & a small bathroom (or even smaller options with a shared bathroom). However, I don't know of people renting/buying these kinds of apartments – even though they might be pretty useful if one wants to trade size against good location.

Why, therefore, no nano-apartments?

Possible reasons:

No Supply

Perhaps nano-apartments are not economically viable to rent. Maybe the fixed cost per apartment is so high that it's not worth it below a certain size – every tenant being an additional burden, plumbing + upkeep of stairways, organising trash & electricity just isn't worth it. Or, perhaps, the amount of walls is too big – the more separate apartments you want to create, the more floor-space is going to be used on walls to separate those apartments, and at some fixed point around 15 m² it's just not worth it.

Another possibility is that there are regulations dictating the minimal size of apartments (or something that effectively leads to apartments having a minimal size).

No Demand

I could be over-estimating the number of people who'd like to live in such an apartment. I could see myself renting one, especially if the location is very good – I'm glad to trade off space against having a short commute. But perhaps I'm very unusual in this regard, and most people trade off more harshly against the size of the apartment, due to owning just too much stuff to fit into such a small place.

Or the kinds of people who would make this kind of trade-off just move into a shared flat, and bare the higher costs (but most rooms in shared apartments are still larger than 10 m²).

The group of people who would rent those nano-apartments would naturally be young singles who want to save money and live urban, perhaps that group is just too small/already served with university dorms?

So, why are there no nano-apartments? Does anyone have more insight into this? (The title is, of course, a hansonism).

My guess is: Regulation. It would be illegal to build and rent out nano-apartments. (Evidence: In many places in the USA, it's illegal for more than X people not from the same family to live together, for X = 4 or something ridiculously small like that.)

To add a bit more detail to your comment, this form of housing used to exist in the from of single room occupancy (SRO) buildings, where people would rent a single room and share bathroom and kitchen spaces. Reformers and planners started efforts to ban this form of housing starting around the early 20th century. From Wikipedia:

By the 1880s, urban reformers began working on modernizing cities; their efforts to create "uniformity within areas, less mixture of social classes, maximum privacy for each family, much lower density for many activities, buildings set back from the street, and a permanently built order" all meant that SRO hotels had to be cut back.[10] By the 1890s, SRO hotels became "forbidden housing; their residents, forbidden citizens."[10] New York City police inspector Thomas Byrnes stated that rather than give SRO hotels "palliative" care, they should be dealt with using a "knife, the blister, the amputating instruments."[12]

Reformers used moral codes, building codes, fire codes, zoning, planning committees and inspections to limit or remove SRO hotels.[12] An example of moral critiques is Simon Lubin's claims that "unregulated hotels" were "spreading venereal diseases among the soldiers".[12] Other reformers tried to ban men and boys from rooming in the same hotels, due to concerns about homosexuality.[12] The building and safety codes criticized SRO hotel problems such as "firetraps, dark rooms, inadequate plumbing, an insufficient ventilation."[12] In San Francisco, building code inspections and restrictions were often used to racially harass Chinese labourers and the places they lived.[12]

In 1917, California passed a new hotel act that prevented the building of new hotels with small cubicle rooms.[12] In addition to banning or restricting SRO hotels, land use reformers also passed zoning rules that indirectly reduced SROs: banning mixed residential and commercial use in neighbourhoods, an approach which meant that any remaining SRO hotel's residents would find it hard to eat at a local cafe or walk to a nearby corner grocery to buy food.[12] Non-residential uses such as religious institutions (churches) and professional offices (doctors, lawyers) were still permitted under these new zoning rules, but working class people (plumbers, mechanics) were not allowed to operate businesses such as garages or plumbing businesses.[12]

This fits into a set of ideas about urban planning that were popular in the 20th century but have (at least in my opinion) contributed to housing unaffordability and reduced the diversity and vitality of many of America's cities.

A bit more info;

I lived at 20Mission, which was technically an SRO. I enjoyed the setting quite a bit, though I've heard they've had trouble recently with COVID. That said, most of the other SROs I know of nearby (in the Mission, SF), are really not nice places. (lots of drugs and some violence).

There's been discussion of having "Micro-Units" in SF, but they're heavily regulated. It seems like small progress is being made.

That's disheartening :-(

But good to know nonetheless, thanks.

Perhaps not a *completely* senseless regulation considering disease spreading (though there are better ways of attacking _that_ with other means).

Well, I know it exists. At least in Korea.

There is a symbolic example of your “nano-apartment,” called Goshitel. It is the cheapest form of rent, with about the area of 3.3 meter squared. The term “Goshi” is attached because it has been used by people who decided to spend every minute studying for the Goshi exam and become the public governor, the most sustainable job in the country. 

Therefore the first reason people need the nano apartment is to have the longest possible time while not working for their reasons: people who refused work. Well, the second reason is to just save some money: people who work. The third reason is that they don’t have money to escape: people who can’t work, like the homeless. 

I’ve seen some documentaries about these Goshitels and I think you can easily find one with that term. As Goshitel has a poor image, those are more focused on the difficulties of one and people inside. But as I described, it has a diverse demographic and the documentaries only show portions of it. Things to note is that it has an overall negative image of dirty facilities and depressed people. That can be why nano apartment was not spread outside Korea to America. 

Back to your question, I suspect some reasons that nano-apartments does not exist in the US while more frequent in Korea:

  1. Korea has much smaller land, compared to the US.The common housing form of Korean is an apartment(or “advanced apartment” with at least 10 floors. It is not exactly the one of America), while Americans usually live in detached houses. The degree of viewing a nano-apartment can differ a lot. -Counterargument: Both have extremely populous cities, where the land is always in shortage.  
  2. The US has more restrictions on the housing structures. ...but I know nothing 
  3. The group of “Goshi” students would have been the obvious demand for such nano apartments in Korea. It would have brought proper development over decades. In the US, there are no exams that can be comparable to Goshi--that can guarantee the rest of one’s life, even during economic depressions. The exam also required students to attend prep classes, mostly in the expansive and populous Seoul area.  
  4. Maybe the lifestyles of homeless people are different in America and Korea. 

One more:

I just sparked some thoughts here and it may be insufficient to bring a complete concept. I realized explaining Korean stuff to America and bringing American stuff to Korea are extra time consuming, as you don’t know “Goshi'' and I don’t know housing in New York. But I enjoyed comparing cultural differences and hope you ask more for confusing parts.

  1. I think the nano spaces you describe kind of exist, but they tend to be called "pods" or "capsules". They seem to emerge where people without family commitments place an exorbitantly high value on living in a particular location for long enough. Places like podshare SF come to mind as examples.

  2. Having lived in a micro-apartment (400 sq ft) for a year during my first job out of school, and having stayed in capsule hotels while traveling, I have 2 personal speculations about why it takes extreme pressure to get people to consider pods desirable:

  • Lack of third space in the US. Having friends involves spending time with them, and spending time in person with multiple friends is impractical in a micro space and impossible in a nano one. Some countries and cultures seem to have different norms around the third space from those in the US, so nano spaces would function differently in say Tokyo Japan compared to say rural Iowa.

  • Privacy expectations. I think many people have a certain baseline expectation of privacy, in terms of both how much space and time they want the privacy in and how private they want it, which is incompatible with nano or pod style accommodations long term. I suspect that increased prevalence of time-shared, "public" private spaces with the right features and price points could increase how many people are able to build a lifestyle with enough privacy for their needs in a nano style living space. Examples of these "public" private spaces include hotel rooms, karaoke booths, float tanks or private meditation rooms, parks which allow sufficient distance from others, well-appointed bathrooms, and similar.

Why no nano apartments *where Part of what you are talking about sounds like bedsits, and part like foyers.which exist in some places.

Hello! My name is Cal. I've been a Slate Star Codex reader for years and read LessWrong occasionally, but just made an account for the first time today.

I would love some advice on improving my fiction writing. Writing short-form fiction has been a major hobby of mine for my entire life (really, starting at age 7 or 8), but I don't think I'm particularly good at it, I just enjoy it a lot and enjoy reading other amateurs' fiction as well. I've never tried to get anything published anywhere as I don't think it's at that level of quality.

Here is the smallest one of my stories. I would be incredibly appreciative of constructive criticism.

“Drainage ditch” is too vulgar a term for the narrow creek that ran through the fenced off little park twenty yards behind the last condo before we left.

It was good to be near it. I think all running water is like that, even that small amount of it-- at the narrowest part a child could jump across, and I did, when I was eight or nine and we lived another few streets down from the place.

My grandma called it a “babbling brook.” This is still how I think of it: the water running fast enough at the narrow parts that it made the pleasant sound you can hear recorded on relaxation CDs buried in the bottom of a box in your storage closet.

Where the stream widened at the end of the park, though, it pooled shallow and near-stagnant among a patch of cattails and other wet reedy plants. There was always garbage in the water. I never thought of it as dirty, only invasive. It was just as much a part of the environment as the fauna: here was the forsythia (Forsythia suspensa), and the juniper trees (Juniperus virginiana), and here the empty half-liter soda bottle (polyethylene terephthalate).

And that time I ran back to what I knew as home, along the sidewalk that flanked Blue Spring and then the asphalt, and cut through the grassy hill behind the townhouses to get to the one that was mine. (The back door would have been closer, but we did not use that door.)

The beads of granular lawn herbicide (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, 3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid) embedded in the soles of my shoes meant that I was to leave them outside today on the porch.

In my sock feet I went inside only to get a Shoprite bag (HDPE) to stuff in my pocket to bring back with me, and back on the porch I put my shoes on one at a time without untying them.

The stick that I used to fish the empty cigarette box (LDPE and paper) from the water had only recently snapped from the pin oak (Quercus palustris) that stood tall above this park. The park he now stood in, of course, was neither public nor more than an acre and a half; he judged that harshly.

I characterized him alternately as watching over the goings-on in this neighborhood with a silent protectiveness and as too old and tired to see the scrubby pines and patches of clover as anything but pathetically little consolation for what used to be here. 

He had been here before they had put these houses up, I was sure of it. The townhome I lived in as a child was built in 2001. The last one I lived in before I left the state was built in 1992, and failing in dozens of small insidious ways that pooled in the sump much faster than the pathetic battery backups (lead dioxide, sulfuric acid) stacked in the basement closet could handle. Security theater was unconvincing to the driving weight of the water. 

The pin oak, which I would guess had stood there since the 1960s, would stand for fifty years more unless someone came to destroy it. He did watch, I knew, as the condos in the long gray buildings across the street settled down to piecemeal destroy themselves.

I took the cigarette box in my ungloved hand from the end of my fishing-stick and put them in the bag and then I did not think about what my mother’s reaction might be. I often thought of it before I did things; that day I did not.

And hence I filled the bag with invasive treasures: three-quarters of a faded water bottle label (polypropylene), an empty chip bag (oriented polypropylene), a small chunk of styrofoam (polystyrene). 

I pulled the bag into a tight knot at the top, and down from my small fingertips to my elbow ran the freed little rivulet of water (water, trichloroethylene, 1,1-dichloroethene).

Some rather scattered thoughts:

There are some very nice things here; I think the paragraph where you introduce the convention of treating chemical names like biological ones is particularly good, for instance, though the convention isn't as effective after that when the chemical names are no longer pairs of words. Generally, I like your writing style at the word/phrase/sentence level, at least as it manifests in this particular piece of writing.

Many things about this piece leave me puzzled. That may be intentional (leave lots of intriguing dangling threads to keep the reader's attention; leave 'em wanting more, not less), or it may indicate that this piece should really be considered as part of something larger that ties some of the loose ends together (it's clear that this piece is depicting a specific moment in a longer life -- "before we left", "before I left the state", "I often thought of it before I did things", etc.). Though there are puzzles that I don't think any context would resolve. For me, the resulting sense of not being sure what's going on was disagreeable, but other readers might well differ.

The thing I liked least about this piece is that it didn't seem to be going anywhere. That may just indicate that there's something I didn't grasp, of course. There are a number of things that seem like themes (pollution and waste; the pin oak, considered as a character who sees things on a timescale longer than ours; what happens to houses and neighbourhoods over time; childhood) but there doesn't seem to be much development of those themes, and accordingly I'm left not sure what the point is (if there is a "point", which of course there need not be).

The very end suggests that perhaps the point is something to do with insidious invisible pollution? Our narrator, as a child, thinks something is water but in fact it's water, trichloroethylene, 1-1-dichloroethene. That doesn't seem like enough of a shock, somehow, to pull its weight.

So it seems more as if it's just drawing a sketch of one particular moment in the past -- no "point" necessary -- but it's hard to square that with what seems like the very strong emphasis on pollution, waste and decay. Having said that, as a sketch of one moment in the past I think it does a good job.

There are a number of little details that don't serve an obvious "structural" purpose but give the impression that some care has been taken over them stylistically. The back door that you didn't use. The absence of gloves on your hands. Not thinking of your mother's possible reaction to the rubbish-bagging. Often thinking of it on other occasions. Perhaps they're there just for vividity, in which case I feel like maybe some of them are a bit too obtrusive. Or perhaps there's some subtext I'm supposed to infer from them and am failing to get? I dunno. I don't want to say "take them out" because they're nicely written and they do add vividity, but I get a slight sense of a Chekhov's gun left unfired.

Also puzzling (and also suggesting that maybe there's some point I've failed to grasp): what's the bag of rubbish for? Invasive treasures, you say; is our narrator packaging up the rubbish in order to hang it in pride of place on the bedroom wall? (Hard to square that with the word "invasive", I think.) Or to throw it out? (But then why the suggestion that their mother might disapprove?) Or to hang it off a branch of that pin oak? (Seems unlikely, given how the oak is portrayed.) Or just a thing a child decided to do on a sudden whim? Since this rubbish-bagging is kinda the central event of this vignette, and our narrator seems to be quite excited about doing it (running home, putting shoes on without stopping to untie and tie them), I want to understand why it's important to the narrator, and I don't.

A few quibbles: There's a slight mismatch between "It was good to be near it" and "I think all running water is like that" (like what? the previous sentence isn't, strictly, describing the water). "Sock feet" feels odd; is there a reason for that rather than, say, just "socks"? Why trichloroethylene but dichloroethene? The pin oak is almost always "he", which I like, but at one point we suddenly have "unless someone came to destroy it". What's "them" in the sentence beginning "I took the cigarette box"? Maybe "destroy themselves piecemeal" flows better than "piecemeal destroy themselves".

The paragraph beginning "I characterized him alternately" feels like it wants to be nudged in the showing-versus-telling direction somehow. (I'm not very sure about this.) Elsewhere, you just state matter-of-factly that "he judged that harshly", "he had been here before they put these houses up", "he did watch". But here, for one paragraph, you're looking at it indirectly: I characterized him ... . It seems like this breaks the spell a little.

Even though I'm not sure what the very ending is doing I like its craftsmanship, with the parallel between the drainage ditch / babbling brook at the start echoed by the rivulet at the very end.

Thank you so much (for both your kind words and your constructive criticism)!

The point was intended to be about pollution and I appreciate you pointing out that it wasn't strong/clear enough-- that's something I want to work on. In the same vein, the narrator's intention with the garbage fished out of the creek would be to throw it out so it isn't litter, but I agree I don't really make that clear, especially since they call it "treasures" and say that they don't see it as unnatural. This is one of a few pieces that I've written inspired by various Superfund sites in New Jersey. The specific one in question,, is not as serious as some of the other ones I've written about on the Passaic River, or the American Cyanamid site (here are some cool photos) near where I grew up. It was both a major fear and inspiration to me as a kid.

I also really like all the suggestions you made about the oak, both avoiding the "I characterized him" and making sure that I continue to use "he" and not "it". That and the gimmick of the chemical names not being necessary throughout the whole piece-- I was on and off about that myself, whether I should keep them in just that one paragraph or leave them in the whole piece, but now that I have a second opinion it makes sense to take the extras out.

Will make changes based on this and consider the ideas you describe here in my future writing-- I appreciate you taking the time to write this. :)

I'm not sure that I'm necessarily advocating taking the other chemical names out. After all, they play a necessary role right at the very end, and I don't know how that would work without all the previous use.

I didn't mean to imply that there was any doubt that pollution was a central topic! That would be hard to miss. But it's not so clear what you're trying to say about it. (Or whether you're neutrally refraining from saying anything in particular, and just showing it in its natural habitat, as it were.) Perhaps if I were less ignorant that last parenthesis would tell me a clearer story. (Though I guess googling the chemical names would probably have sufficed.)


I'm a lurker on LW but I've had a question I've been thinking about for awhile. I'm an extremely neurotic person and have great trouble interacting with people online, so I've always struggled (and never succeeded) with finding a venue for talking with people about things I've thought of, or have questions about. But LW seems like the kind of crowd who would have a thoughtful answer to this question; and this seems like the / a place for it. At least, I hope this is an acceptable place to ask it

Anyway, my question is whether anybody has had success emulating showering, or otherwise found some method, to induce shower thoughts / diffuse-mode thinking patterns / default mode network activity?

Some things I've heard people say online and in person related to this:

Sleeping, dreaming, and the hypnagogic state just before sleep. This could look like just keeping a notebook beside your bed and writing anything that comes to mind down when you wake up, or just before you fall asleep. I've read some people have even went so far as to hold something heavy so that when they fall asleep it falls and wakes them up and they presumably have access to whatever they were thinking just before falling asleep. I've found that this is a lucrative time for ideas and thoughts, but if you have sleeping problems like I do it can be extremely disruptive, and counterproductive

Meditation. There are some forms of meditation that involve specifically waiting for thoughts to occur so you can contemplate them. Which seems like the most direct route to spontaneous thoughts like shower thoughts. Anybody whose ever meditated knows that thoughts interject themselves during meditation regardless whether you want them to or not. However, I've never had much success with this method

Walking and pacing. This is a big one for certain people I know, and used to be much more important for me. Basically, you just walk around, either in a tight circuit inside, or over a longer distance outside. Some people say this is the most effective method for them

Some other assorted ideas related to this:

Talking to people seems to be a way of shaking your thoughts up, and getting you into a different way of thinking about things. And others can be used to generate ideas, and evolve ideas: they come up with things, they tell you and you come up with a variant of it, or manipulate it in a way they wouldn't have done otherwise. But this is an unreliable method because other people aren't always available to talk with, and aren't necessarily receptive to helping someone deliberately work through a problem. In an institutional setting where the whole point for everyone involved is solving a particular problem, I imagine this is one of the most important methods available Related: I have had this idea (plus partially written source code) for awhile for a hybrid chat / forum / collaborative note taking system where individuals write in separate note logs but can arbitrarily combine individual logs to collaborate, and can spawn child logs based off of any given note to tackle it as a subproblem. I imagine sort of like a micro-microblogging platform for idea generation, and recording problem-solving notes, specifically structured in a way that encourages breaking problems into subproblems, babbling, bouncing ideas off others, etc. I also have considered a sort of collaborative zettelkasten-like system. And some sort of wiki for ideas as well. If this is something somebody is interested in participating in developing, or even just discussing platforms like this, or the potential for such a platform and its effect on society, then hmu

It seems to be possible to use different representational tools (tools for representation) to assist in getting your thoughts in the right place. Like writing, for instance, seems to act like a form of memory augmentation, allowing you to effectively increase the size of your working memory. This seems to enable you to produce more ideas related to your problem because they don't have to be stored in brain memory, they can be dumped into physical memory and essentially forgotten about for the time. Drawing and graphical note-taking is another one: sort of like augmenting your visual imagination in the same way that writing augments your memory, and apparently enables you to evolve an idea by way of manipulating your drawing. Interestingly, it almost seems like your brain considers the representations formed by these tools as equivalent to the representations it generates internally; ie: internal, mental representations and physical representations you create in external reality are treated the same internally. I don't know if that's true or not

Frequently even taking a shower, or any of the usually-lucrative techniques, isn't effective because you have ideas and thoughts about things which just generally aren't about the things you want. For example, you think about something someone said, or what you have to do after showering. It's not to say that these kinds of thoughts can't be useful, but if you intend to use your shower thoughts to aid in solving a particular problem then those other thoughts are interfering. So getting your head in the right place is obviously important

In general, getting your thinking (conscious and/or unconscious) to stick to a particular line of thought is its own challenge that I don't have much traction in finding a solution for. It seems like if you think about something for long enough, there is a momentum to your thinking and that persists without deliberate, conscious effort. However, if your mind isn't already sticking to the target line of thought, and especially if you aren't immediately interested in it, or if other things are on your mind as well, then it can be extraordinarily difficult to get your mind to stick to your target thoughts

I've actually considered making some kind of "game" or task that involves certain arbitrary tasks in a particular order for a particular amount of time, in hopes that it will encourage thinking in the background while doing it. I've considered some previously-solved puzzles, for this, like: going through the motions of solving towers of hanoi, or a sliding block puzzle. The point isn't that you achieve anything by doing the thing, its that you have done it so many times that it becomes automatic and you essentially free your mind up for free thinking until you are done with the task

Incidentally, while searching for posts here related to this topic here I found a years-old post here which ended up with a discussion about cutting shower time down. Also, this morning I read a hacker news post and associated comments about what happens to you when you lose slack (see this tag) by trying to increase efficiency. I kept thinking while I read these (contextualized also by thoughts about shower thoughts) that your unconscious thinking is doing something while you're apparently not actively engaged. It isn't completely useless. And its probably not generally useless at all. Like, while you're training an ANN model, or running a search algorithm: that isn't wasted time: you really are moving toward something; its effective. This seems related because showering, or whatever appears to be useless time, may really be very useful. Cutting time and rushing for efficiency / productivity reasons seems like errant and misinformed optimizing in some cases. However, I won't make the mistake of saying that all such optimizing (such as cutting down shower time) should be avoided universally. That is up to every individual to decide for themselves, and depends on their current circumstances specifically. Sometimes people really don't get anything extra out of doing something, and they really should streamline doing it so they don't have to do it for very long. Sometimes cutting down your shower time is the best thing for someone personally, even if they are remarkably productive while doing it

Generally, I think that having shower thoughts, and spontaneous ideas and insight about some problem, is an extremely important part of solving big primarily-mental problems. I think that in order to trek through a problem-solution space, you are dependent on the quality and quantity of your ideas. If you want to solve a problem faster then that (abstractly) means having more, higher quality ideas about the current subproblem you're working on. It seems like the quantity and quality of ideas are monotonically related somehow, and the larger the quantity of ideas you have the higher quality they are as well. Probabilistically speaking, if you sample more from a particular distribution you will likely sample more from any partitions of that distribution; so the higher the quantity of ideas you have, the more likely some will be of higher quality I imagine this sort of like gradient descent: you sample solutions (via ideas) in problem-solution space immediately around your current subproblem, when you find one that works you go there and then choose a different subproblem, and slowly you wander toward your goal. Alternatively, you can imagine it like: you have a well-understood part of problem-solution space, and a not-well-understood section, and your ideas slowly eat away at the not understood section to incorporate it into the well understood section, and you slowly slime-mold your way to your objective state In either of these representational models the quantity (number of problem-solution space samples) and quality (step size / bite size) are both responsible for the rate which you move toward your goal Also, along the lines of problem-solution space trekking and representations thereof, you can talk about the direction of your steps. For example, you can be moving in a direction completely opposite your intended goalstate, or you can be moving directly towards it. In principle it isn't possible to know which direction (which subproblem to solve, for example) is the preferred one unless you have some interpretation of the space which does have a direction attached. Taking this idea to the ridiculous extreme: if you establish an analogical mapping between your current problem-solution space, and an already-solved one, then you could potentially map your current state in your space to a state in the analogical space and establish a direction that way. It seems plausible this may actually be related to how people usually establish such directions

Sorry I sort of went off track there. Thank you for any comments in advance. No comments is alright too, just posting this somewhere feels good

This felt like reading a post. And I think it would make a good post, possibly with a link to a question:

Anyway, my question is whether anybody has had success emulating showering, or otherwise found some method, to induce shower thoughts / diffuse-mode thinking patterns / default mode network activity?

Thank you! I think this started out with just the question with a little of what I thought about it and then evolved to be much longer. And knowing that this would make a good post is good information. I tend to have a too-strong filter for what quality is post-able on the internet and what isn't, which usually manifests as perfectionism. My behavior is (hopefully) updated accordingly :)

On a side not, it's really interesting how, despite reading posts here for quite awhile without an account, that actually creating an account and posting / commenting changes your perspective, casting the various features of the site in a new light, and reveals things you never would have noticed

Walking and pacing. This is a big one for certain people I know, and used to be much more important for me. Basically, you just walk around, either in a tight circuit inside, or over a longer distance outside. Some people say this is the most effective method for them

Yes in fact having just finished Steve Jobs's biography I can say that this was by far his favorite method of having a meeting. Same for Bill Gates, which you'll observe if you watch the Netflix documentary "Inside Bill's Brain".

It has also been a favorite pastime of Andrew Wiles, the mathematician who cracked Fermat's Last Theorem after seven years of working on it in secret.

Was there a recent post, where some expert claimed that deep learning can't deal with ... some kind of discreteness? 

My cryptocurrency quant hedge fund is looking to hire engineers. If you're curious, PM me. :)

Anyone have tips for calculating someone’s risk of death from COVID? I want to take age, smoking status, gender and pre-existing conditions into account. Thinking about flying my in-laws over here to get vaccinated and wondering whether it’s worth the cost. They are in a country with zero vaccine access.

Found a calculator: